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April 2022

Different types of acupuncture explained

In an era when we use the term ‘acupuncture’ in such a generic way, it’s not exactly surprising that many people wrongly believe there’s only one type of acupuncture – but in fact there are around 13 different types of acupuncture (some people might argue it’s 12, but generally opinion is split on that).

Strictly speaking there’s no such thing as needleless acupuncture. There are, however, non-needle therapies that use the principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine – such as acupressure or Teishein – but let’s look at the differences in how traditional acupuncture can be performed.

For the sake of argument, let’s deal with the 12 types of acupuncture that most of us practitioners can agree on.

These are generally split into two main groups – Traditional Acupuncture and Western Acupuncture, with 9 types falling to the Traditional category, and 3 falling into the Western category.

For the sake of brevity, I’m only going to reference a handful of mainstream acupuncture types that fall into the Traditional Acupuncture category in this article.

Traditional Acupuncture

As the name suggests, approaches that fall into this category broadly follow the principles of holistic treatment that were established two thousand years ago by ancient Chinese practitioners and are faithful to the techniques used then.

All traditional acupuncture is focused on the stimulation of specific points across the body and the release or re-energising of the body’s natural healing energy (or vital force) which we know as qi.

These types of acupuncture include:

Chinese Acupuncture: Probably the best-known style of acupuncture here in the UK, this uses super fine needles to stimulate our qi and clear the network of pathways – or meridians – that it travels through.

Japanese Acupuncture: The biggest difference between Chinese and Japanese acupuncture is really the size of the needles that are used, with those used in Japanese acupuncture being slightly finer than their Chinese counterparts. It’s important to say here, though, that all acupuncture uses extremely fine (thin) needles and regardless of the size of needle used, your experience as a patient should be absolutely painless.

Korean Acupuncture: If you’re aware of Korean acupuncture then you may have heard it referred to as ‘four needle acupuncture’, and this is because standard Korean acupuncture treatment only uses four needles. This is known as the Sa-am technique. It is a treatment that achieves healing through a focus on the body’s extremities – for example, the ear, the hand, or the foot.

Master Tung: In this approach, and similar to Korean acupuncture, the focus is generally on needling in the body’s extremities, as well as bloodletting (the draining of very small amounts of blood from strategic parts of the body) to achieve better energy balance. This style also advocates using three needles placed successively into a therapeutic region.

Yin Tang Acupuncture: This approach concentrates on a single pressure point between the eyebrows. It is considered by its practitioners to be particularly effective in treating stress, anxiety and cardiovascular issues and may often be included in your overall treatment as a matter of course. (Yin Tang is one of my favourite acupuncture points because it is brilliant at calming the mind, and I use it routinely in combination with other points in almost 95 per cent of my patient treatments.)

Western Acupuncture

These are acupuncture approaches that are generally used by doctors, physiotherapists, osteopaths, chiropractors, and nurses and typically involve dry needling, where the needle is inserted into the muscle to relieve pain, and medical acupuncture.

There are four primary approaches to Western Acupuncture:

Dry needling – used to treat neuromusculoskeletal pain and/or impaired movement, dry needling is the insertion of a superfine acupuncture needle (known as a monofilament needle) to stimulate improvement in muscular trigger points, which are contracted or tight muscle bands that restrict or impair physical ability.

Medical acupuncture – The stimulation of sensory nerves under the skin and in the muscles, which helps the body to produce natural healing or analgesic substances, such as pain-relieving endorphins. This technique is most commonly used or referred by doctors and other clinical health practitioners.

Auricular acupuncture – this is a relatively new approach to acupuncture developed in the latter part of the 20th Century. It focuses entirely on the principle that the ear is a microsystem that reflects holistic health, and that strategic auricular treatment can resolve issues elsewhere in the body.

Electroacupuncture: In this style of acupuncture, an acupuncture needle is painlessly inserted into the skin as normal and is then connected to a very low electrical pulse which passes through the needle to stimulate the meridians and unblock our healing energy.

Non-needling treatments

For those who have a needle phobia or who are just very nervous about the principle of needles being inserted into the skin, there are a number of different needle-free treatments that allow you to experience many of the benefits of traditional acupuncture approaches.

These include treatments such as acupressure and Teishein. Although these are often practised by acupuncturists and are sometimes included within the ‘family’ of acupuncture treatment, they are needle-free Eastern treatments and are therefore not, strictly speaking, acupuncture techniques.

So, far from there being only one approach to acupuncture, there are many. At The Acupuncturists we don’t offer all forms of acupuncture therapy – a great many acupuncture techniques, including many that we offer, are highly specialised.

However, we will always give advice and recommendations regarding treatment that are in the best interests of the patient – so if you’d like to try acupuncture, but you’re not sure which style or approach might be right for you, why not get in touch for a confidential chat and we’ll make sure you get the right advice for your healing journey.


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